Ender Wiggins
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Introducing COGZ

So this was an all-time first for me. I've reviewed over 250 games, but never yet have I had opportunity to review a game that I was personally taught by the designer, or have I had opportunity to play a game with its designer. That all changed about a week ago. Fellow gamers, please meet Wesley Lamont, better known as "Wez", and designer of COGZ. I was fortunate enough to sit down with him and enjoy several games, including a run-through of COGZ, which is scheduled to start receiving funding via Kickstarter at the very end of June 2014 [update: the Kickstarter is finally live, and will be funded on 1 January 2015].

COGZ is best described as a puzzly Tsuro-like abstract, in which you are placing tiles to connect coloured paths that earn points. Here's the official description from the manual:



As you can probably tell from all the "cogs" he managed to squeeze in those few sentences, our man Wez has a sense of humour. I like him already! In fact, if you take a close look at the artwork for the mad scientist pictured in the rulebook, you'll notice that it's none other than Wez himself!

Should I be nervous to be sitting at the same game table as a game designer who fancies himself as somewhat of a mad scientist? Fortunately, aside from somewhat of an evil laugh (which became even more pronounced when another player suggested that Wez nearly always wins his own game!), Wez turned out to be an innocuous, good-natured, and friendly chap. He even let me win once at King of Tokyo, and we "rejoiced in our shared victory" at Cheaty Mages. But most importantly, his game COGZ turned out to be pretty good! So let's tell you more about COGZ!


Designer Wesley Lamont with COGZ

COMPONENTS

Box

I haven't seen a copy of the box, since we were playing with an otherwise well-polished prototype, but here's what the cover will look like. The artwork features the four colours that will score you points in the game, and of course... some cogs! The publisher RAEZ is Wesley Lamont's own design company, and he's also the one who has done the graphic design and artwork. He may not be a mad scientist in real life, but clearly he's a man of many talents.



The back of the box lists the components you get, along with an overview of what the game is about and how to play.



Component list

Here's what you get with the game:
● 70 tiles
● 6 score boards
● 24 scoring tokens
● 12 bonus tokens
● 1 game gadget
● instructions



Tiles

The 70 tiles feature paths in four colours - red, yellow, green, and blue - to represent the cogs or gears of the "cogtraption" that we're going to be working on as players, trying to get cogs of matching colours adjacent to each other in order to earn points. Depending on the number of players, a certain amount of these tiles will be laid out face up in a roughly square shape at the start of the game. Notice how each tile has two different cog-segments.



Score boards & tokens

Each player will get their own nifty score board, that they'll use to keep track of the points they're earning in each of the four colours. Apparently even games with mad scientists still require victory points! The blue, red, green and yellow tokens are used to keep track of how many points you have in each colour.



Bonus tokens

As the game progresses, you can earn bonus points by completing a " mechanism" in a colour, and there's three +2 bonus tokens in each colour for that purpose.



Game gadget

Okay, now things start becoming ridiculous. In a good way, that is! This marvellous gizmo is ingeniously constructed with a cog mechanism to display the number of rounds left in the game, which varies according to the number of players. It's a wonderful piece of game engineering that is totally over-the-top, and yet fits the theme of the game beautifully, and also serves a useful game function. Aren't you loving this already?



Instructions

Well, I didn't actually get to see these instructions at the game table, because remember, we had Wez himself run us through the rules (which took less than 5 minutes). But I have seen a PDF of the rulebook, and can tell you that it's only 8 pages long, and it does a good job explaining the rules, with lots of illustrations and examples, and enough examples of mad-scientist humour to keep us amused throughout. "Cog-gratulate the winner for the best Chromatic Cogtraption repairs and quickly return to intense cogitation." Well, maybe this fellow is crazy after all!



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

So how do we actually play this thing? Like I said, explaining the game took around five minutes, as I recall. Everyone got their own scoring board and a scoring token in each of the four colours. A tile board was randomly set-up using a selection of tiles which are placed face-up in an approximately square shape. In our four player game, it was a 6x6 board; it's larger for games with more players and smaller for games with less players.



The Game Gadget indicates the number of rounds, which for our four player game was 7 rounds; games with more players have fewer rounds, and games with less players have more rounds.

For our particular game, Wez and I were joined by Mark and Oliver. Oliver had played the game before, and he shared with us that Wez tends to win most games of COGZ. Well, that just raises the stakes, doesn't it? - nothing like playing a metagame of "let's beat the designer" and trying to defeat a game designer at his own game! All players start with three random tiles in hand, and we were ready to roll ... errr ... cogitate!



Flow of Play

Playing tiles

Each round consists of players in turn doing one action. What you do on your turn is very simple: you take one of the tiles from your hand, and exchange it with one of the tiles on the board. Play a tile, get a tile, score points - easy!

The example below pictures how this works. On your turn, you might decide to take the green and blue tile from the board to your hand, and replace it with one of the three tiles currently in your hand, either the green/red, blue/green, or yellow/blue. You can choose to orient the new tile however you wish.



Scoring points

You then score points for the colours of the cogs on the tile you just placed. The amount of points you get is equal to the total number of connected segments of that colour. So ideally you're trying to place a tile so that the colours of the cogs on the tile you placed matches the colours of adjacent tiles, and better yet, a string of adjacent tiles. If you get things right, you could find yourself placing a tile that earns you up to 8 points in a colour, for example if the yellow cog on your tile ends up making an unbroken chain with seven other yellow cogs. Note that if the tile you place has a cog with identical colour and orientation to the one you replaced it with, that cog won't score points. In the example below, the played tile will earn four points for yellow, and three points for blue.



Bonus points

You can earn bonus points by completing a "mechanism", which is a completed chain of cogs that either connects back to itself (e.g. a circle shape), or connects to the outside borders. These let you get a bonus token (also called a "mechanic token") which is worth two points in that colour, and is placed face-down in front of you rather than being added to your score board immediately. Mechanisms are fixed in place, and can't be altered.



Bonus actions

If you manage to get a scoring token in a particular colour above a certain number (the exact amount depends on the number of players), this entitles you to take an extra turn immediately. In the example below, getting your red score above 16 points in a 5 or 6 player game would give you an extra action, so you'd immediately get to place another tile for more points.



Game End

The game ends at the conclusion of the final round indicated by the game gizmo, and at that point the bonus tokens are revealed and their amounts added to player scores. At that point, you take the score of your lowest valued colour, and this is your final score. This concept should be familiar to people who have played Knizia's Ingenious or Tigris & Euphrates.



CONCLUSIONS

Our game

So how did our game pan out? Well it soon became apparent that Wez was the man to beat. I managed to get some high scoring turns in one colour (red I think), but that wasn't about to do me any good if my other colours were all low! In the early rounds, we found ourselves with quite a few options, but as the game progressed, mechanisms began to come together, thereby limiting our choices, and increasing tension. Yellow was proving particularly difficult to score with, and it soon seemed that yellow could in fact prove to be the decisive scoring colour for nearly all of us.

In the final round, Oliver managed to get past the scoring thresh-hold in one of his other colours to entitle him to an extra turn, and in fact managed to pull this off twice successively, for a very nice finish that improved his overall score handily. But would it be enough to beat our resident mad scientist? Unfortunately not (cue the mad professor's evil laugh)! Wez came out on top with 12 points, followed closely by Oliver at 11, and myself and Mark a little further behind with 9 and 8 respectively.


A 5x5 configuration for a 2 player game

What do I think?

Length: Game time can't have been much more than 20 minutes. If it was longer than that, then it certainly didn't feel very long, which is a good sign. The suggested playing time is 30 minutes, and given how the set-up and round length varies according to the number of players, that sounds about right. In our four player game, the game only consisted of 7 rounds, so that means you effectively only get to place 7 tiles each, and the game is over. The game certainly didn't overstay its welcome, and felt just right.

Theme: With most abstract games, theme is usually like an ugly step-sister: she's present at the ball, but we all know that she doesn't really belong. What's interesting about COGZ is that the theme actually makes sense and plays a role in the mechanisms (literally) of the game. We're not just rearranging lines and paths for the pure joy of victory points, but we're manipulating cogs in a machine. And `locked mechanisms' can't be moved - not merely because they're the abstraction of a game designer in an ivory tower looking to add new restrictions in his private universe, but because they're parts of a machine that are functioning and set in place. This thematic back-story is enhanced by the title and the artwork of the game, and all helps make the game-play a more satisfying and convincing experience.

Tile management: One thing I really came to appreciate as the game progressed is the idea of replacing tiles. In a lot of tile-laying games, such as Tsuro, you're simply adding tiles and making the board while drawing random tiles. This mechanic invariably means that what you have in hand is completely luck-of-the-draw, and makes games almost entirely tactical rather than strategic. COGZ avoids this problem by putting you in control of the tiles you draw, because the tiles you get into hand are precisely the ones you're replacing on the board. This adds a whole other layer to your tile placement, because it means that you don't only need to think about what kind of placement is going to net you the most points on this turn, but you also need to think about what tile currently on the board you want to get into your hand so you can play it in a future hand. The impact of this only dawned on me several rounds into the game, and it is a really neat and clever mechanic, because you need to be considering what colours you want to be scoring with later in the game, and finding a way to get a tile with those colours. Getting tiles can be just as important as placing them!

Locked mechanisms: I also found it fascinating that you need to adjust your tactics as the game develops. In the early game, options are usually wide open. But as the game progresses, mechanisms will start to shut down the possibilities. What's more, in the late game there's also greater likelihood of long chains being available, and while they could score you a bucketload of points, you need to be careful that you don't set up your opponents to do exactly the same! This forces you to adapt your playing style and be making different types of decisions throughout the game.

Bonus actions: Another interesting concept is the idea of getting bonus actions. In our game Oliver used it to good effect, and my initial thought was that this almost seemed too strong, especially given that you only get to place 7 tiles in a four player game to begin with. But in the end I think this is a neat concept, and actually gives players the option of trying other strategies. In most cases, having a mega amount of points in one colour usually means you're doing poorly in others, so this mechanic nicely compensates for that, and gives you another avenue of trying to recover. I think I like it.

Bonus tokens: One thing I wasn't entirely sure about was the fact that the bonus tokens are placed face down in front of the players. The reality is that these bonus points are completely trackable, so why make them hidden information? Especially in a game that only lasts about 7 rounds or so, and where keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing can be important, it seems to me that these bonus points could just as equally be played face up and added to your score immediately. But then again, it's easy enough to house rule that style of play. Perhaps the intent of the rule is in line with a more casual style of game, and to add to the suspense of the final reveal. At any rate, I don't think that COGZ can be criticized for having no interaction, because if your opponents are struggling with a particular colour, then you want to make sure that you're not setting them up for a high scoring turn in that colour.

Graphic design: The graphic design of the game is excellent, with the game gadget worthy of special mention. But something I really appreciated about the graphic design is that Wez has not ignored our colour-blind gamer friends. One of my best friends is colour-blind, and we've been frustrated on many occasion when we discovered that an otherwise great game was simply not playable for him. Fortunately Wez has ensured that the four colours are also distinguished by artwork, and he told me that he's playtested it with colour-blind folks who found it worked just fine for them.



Recommendation

So is COGZ for you? As you can probably tell, I enjoyed this game quite a bit. I'm a fan of Tsuro-like path laying games to begin with, and I think COGZ is a good one. Others who have played the game also have good things to say about it, and I can see why. While an abstract at heart, COGZ has a theme that actually makes sense and is closely linked to the game mechanics, and helps enhance the game's visual and thematic appeal. The game-play is quick and accessible, and yet it gives you opportunity to make good decisions, without becoming too brain-burning. The concept of taking into your hand the tile that you're replacing is particularly effective, and keeps the game-play streamlined while at the same time giving a whole other aspect to consider. Tactics and strategy certainly will determine the outcome rather than luck, because there has to be a good reason that designer Wez has a strong win record! Yet even though good decision making will determine the outcome, I never felt like this was a brain-burning abstract where I didn't stand a chance as a first-time player - I think we all felt that we were in with a chance of coming out on top.

So if you enjoy abstract games like Ingenious or even path laying games like Tsuro, I think there's a good chance you'll really like what COGZ brings to the table. In a polished and official edition, this game really has potential to go places, and I hope the Kickstarter project proves to be a good success - I'm certainly looking forward to play a copy of the final version. Wez, you mad scientist, well done sir!

Availability: COGZ is being released for crowdfunding on Kickstarter here.



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Tom C.
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I...want...this...game. I have never participated in a kickstarter project. I can change.
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Dan Conley
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I HAVE done Kickstarter, but have really cut back on the number of projects I get behind. This one, however, is going in the +1 column. Looks like a must-have for me!

Thanks (as always) for a fine review!
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PhDGreg
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Awesomely thorough review. I've had the chance to play Cogz a handful of times and can attest to it being a solid little game.

Simple to pick up, quick to play a few games, and with enough depth to keep it interesting.

And yes, Wez is indeed quite mad.
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Andrew Gilbert
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I got a chance to play this over the weekend, and I will definitely be backing this on Kickstarter at the end of the month.

I like the fact that you can gain additional actions. On the last turn your score may be being determined by a color that does not appear on any of the tiles in your hand, so you can't improve. However, if you can gain an extra action by swapping out one of the tiles in your hand with one with the color you need, you may have a chance to improve your score.
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Mark Thomas
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Hello,

Has the release been delayed on Kickstarter? Either way any chance you can show us the preview KS page so we know hat options / give constructive advice / spot mistakes or spelling errors. Thanks,

MT.
 
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Melissa
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BGG page says: COGZ is scheduled for crowdfunding on Kickstarter in August 2014.
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Wesley Lamont
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I can provide some answers here.

COGZ was scheduled for release at the end of June but it has been delayed due to setting up the kickstarter with some partners. It is now due for what I would expect to be mid August.

I would happily post up a preview. It is currently half done but I'm going through a graphic update and final rules feedback at the moment. I'll be releasing a Print and Play version shortly as well. I'll try to get the word out as much as I can when I do so hopefully everyone hears about it.
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Mark Thomas
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Hi,

Any update?

MT.
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Wesley Lamont
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COGZ is progressing along nicely though much slower than I would like.

The US partners setting up the Kickstarter are still working on it. Got a couple more steps to get completed to get access to the American Kickstarter site.

At my end there have been quite a few updates:
- COGZ is now endorsed by Mensa
- Version 6 component graphics update has been complete
- Version 6 rules content has been completed
- Language translations for Version 6 are currently underway

Still remaining at my end is:
- Complete Version 6 logo
- Compile new Rule book with content and new artwork
- Website completion
- Launch Print and Play
- Email campaign completion

So currently I'm not putting a date on the Launch until the American side is complete. I would be predicting October at this rate. I'm trying to get everything sorted so when the campaign goes live it is as smooth as possible.
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Tom C.
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Thanks for the update. This one's still on my list to support, and I look forward to owning it eventually.
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thanks for the update - I'm really keen to get my grubby hands on this.
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Thanks for the update. Looking forward to it.

MT.
 
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Dan Conley
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I'm in as well!!!
 
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Alicia Smith
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Hi, I'm leeece on yucata.de
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Maybe we can grab a game sometime?
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And COGZ is off and running - already funded! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/raez/cogztm-and-ludicro... now looking towards stretch goals.

Exciting!
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Wesley Lamont
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Thankyou Alicia,

Trying to keep up with all avenues is challenging work. The campaign is steaming along nicely so far. Looking to see how awezome this can go
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Wesley Lamont
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Last 24 hours now for COGZ by RAEZ. So if anyone is after getting on board NOW is the time.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/raez/cogztm-and-ludicro...
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Ender Wiggins
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Congratulations on getting this funded, Wez. By the sounds of things you must now be getting close to the finish line with the published edition.

I talked to someone recently who has seen some production samples, and it seems that the final version is going to be super impressive!


Update: The published game has now arrived, and the components are every bit as good as I was hoping. They're outstanding in every way, well done Wez! See some of my daughter's reactions here:

My 11 year old's thoughts on the COGZ components
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